The editors at Rue all agree — one of our favorite things is when we have interesting conversations with talented and creative people. Our perspectives shift, and we see things in a new light. Such is the case with Windy Chien, a San Francisco artist with a unique and expansive collection of work. Windy makes art that, in her own words, “elevates the daily rituals of life.” This piqued our interest, since our end goal is to inspire our readers to find what their most beautiful life looks like.
Windy’s had a unique path before becoming a full-time artist — she’s worked in film, music, and tech — and her current project is fascinating. She’s making a knot every day in 2016. While we could continue to wax poetic about her vision, her skills, and this project — which allows her to focus on creativity every single day — our curiosity means we’d rather hear from the artist herself. Today, we’re chatting with Windy to learn more:
When did you first identify as an artist, or know that art was the career you wanted to pursue?
I had always made little objects in my spare time, while I ran Aquarius Records and worked at Apple/iTunes. And I’ve always been very comfortable with and fascinated by new worlds, so making big transitions into different careers has always felt like the right thing to do. So in 2013 I quit my corporate job and took a leap into full-time creativity. I’m in my 40s, so my aesthetic sense and taste is fully, fully realized and I suspected that whatever I made, when I found the right medium, was going to be beautiful and powerful. The first thing I did was to take classes in anything that even slightly interested me, from LED lighting to ceramics (hated it!) to weaving to interior design — and the mediums that felt instantly natural were wood and rope. Steve Jobs liked to point out that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only see them looking back, and so I suppose it’s no surprise that wood and rope were the most resonant forms, because my father had been a woodworker and my mom taught me macrame in the 1970s. These passions had lain dormant for 30 years!
When you feel uninspired or in a rut, where do you seek inspiration?
Ye olde sailors’ knot tying books, 1970s graphics, and the massive-scale work of pioneering female fiber artists such as Francoise Grossen, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and the goddess of them all, Sheila Hicks.
You say you like to create pieces that elevate the daily rituals of life. What does this mean to you?
We can’t all have diamonds and mansions. One of the keys to a good life is to appreciate what you already have: daily moments where we stir our tea, turn on the light at sunset, and gaze at a piece of art on the wall. A beautiful, functional object used during those moments can elevate a life. That’s why I make objects.
You’ve had quite a career journey — from film, to music, to tech. For you, what are the connecting threads between these industries?
Everything I’ve done has supported art/artists and created community. At the record store, it was about evangelizing the music I loved and creating the physical space where the music community – musicians and fans alike – came together. At Apple, iTunes, and the App Store, it was about promoting the creativity of people who are pushing the art in tech forward. And now, it’s about giving myself permission to say my own creativity is the most important thing. Every day, my own aesthetics are what guide my work, whether I’m creating rope art or collaborating with architects and interior designers, and I share that passion with my community by teaching classes in spoon carving.
You live in the Mission District of SF. How does your location influence your work?
I’ve lived in the Mission for almost 30 years and it’s always been a haven for artists, punks, and other beautiful freaks. The sense of open-mindedness goes back to the 1950s and onward . . . and it still lives here, albeit under difficult circumstances given the changes SF has seen with this tech boom.
Your recent project, The Year of Knots, is visually stunning and so interesting! What can you tell us about it? Why did you begin?
I had been happily making macrame pieces, but quickly felt constrained by the few number of knots you see most macrame artists use. Macrame (otherwise known as square knotting) is just a tiny subset of the entire world of knots, so on January 4 of this year, I decided to make a year-long project, learning one new knot a day. I had been collecting knot books since I was a teenager, so I finally cracked them open.
The #YearOfKnots gives me many rich things.  It’s a daily ritual that allows me to quickly access the blissful state of flow that had previously been so elusive to me.  It’s my art school, where I learn the elemental building blocks of art: line, form, shape, space, texture, and color.  It’s a history lesson, where I learn knots’ context in nautical life, the material and physical properties of rope, and how for any given situation there’s a knot that is right while all the others are wrong. Most importantly,  the knots are a new language. And every new knot I learn is like learning another letter in the alphabet. Alphabets and letters form words and words communicate. So the knots are my new form of communication, to make, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, “the mute material world come to life.”
Taken individually, the knots themselves may not seem profound. But my journey to them was. It has been a journey of giving myself permission to leave an identity (the record shop). To forgo security (Apple). And to allow myself, every day, to focus on creativity.
What’s next for you — any new projects you’re excited about?
I just finished the first Twisted Planes installation, a huge rope sculpture that traces lines and shapes in the air without adding volume, at a startup office here in San Francisco and want to do more of them – bigger, higher, more. And I’m continuing to explore my Circuit Boards series – macrame wall hangings that are modern and decidedly not bohemian, inspired equally by electronics parts, Massimo Vignelli’s iconic NYC subway maps, and Diana Vreeland’s maxim that “the eye has to travel.”
To learn more about Windy, click here.